The KissFr. Barnabas Powell
Everybody seems to have the same dream at one time or another. For me, it was a dream where I had a big presentation in front of a large crowd, and in my dream, I forgot my pants! Embarrassed and humiliated, I ran off stage wondering how I could have made such a mistake!
All of us fear being humiliated and embarrassed. It’s a natural fear and it uncovers ( forgive the pun!) our deepest vulnerability. This terrifying truth is that our lives are vulnerable and weak. We fear exposure. We fear intimacy. We fear making ourselves vulnerable to others. And because of that fear, we impoverish our lives with emotional barriers we erect to keep others from knowing just how fearful we are.
Of course, it doesn’t work. We trade our fears for loneliness and isolation and we are still gripped by the slaver of our fear.
Look at our lesson today in Mark 14:43-72; 15:1:
At that time, while Jesus was speaking to the disciples, Judas Iscariot came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him and lead him away under guard.” And when he came, he went up to him at once, and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. And they laid hands on him and seized him. But one of those who stood by drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” And they all forsook him, and fled. And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked. And they led Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes were assembled. (Read the rest of the story)
The Church gives us this familiar story as we prepare for Great Lent to help us see the humanity of all those who followed Jesus. And we, like them, are tempted to run away when it becomes hard to keep following Jesus after’s He’s become unpopular with the powers that be.
And it is no mistake that Judas has been remembered as the betrayer who betrays the Lord with a kiss. Can you imagine anything more intimate and loving than a kiss? But this isn’t what a kiss is for! It is the pain of betrayal that only comes from someone close, someone intimate, someone who has been the Lord’s disciple and even the treasurer of the group. Only someone close can betray you.
But Judas isn’t the only betrayer. Look at the arrest of our Lord. There is betrayal, violence, hypocrisy, and fear.
Tradition tells us that it was John, the Beloved disciple that escapes the grip of the soldiers sent to arrest Jesus and leaves the place of betrayal, fear, violence, and hypocrisy naked. Of course, that’s the true state of all of us who run away from Him Who is Life Himself. He Who is the Lord of Glory is our true destiny and our true Maker and running away from Him always leaves us naked and vulnerable to our fears and failures. Running away from Jesus leaves us “naked” and in greater danger than if we would have stayed close to the Lord, even at His time of trial.
The use of the “naked” imagery is vital to our understanding of our deepest spiritual needs and wounds. Out of our vulnerability comes our reactions of fear, self-defense, and even attacks against others to “protect” ourselves. But Jesus doesn’t respond the same way when He is attacked. Why not? Because the Lord, in His voluntary vulnerability, is not “naked.” He is “clothed” in peace, and has an eternal perspective that sees beyond the moment of suffering and pain.
And that is our path to the mature person’s power in being vulnerable but not “naked.” We must be vulnerable if we are to be in healthy communion with others. But we also must be “clothed” with the love, grace, and strength of our healthy relationship with God to keep those relationships healthy! And we can’t forget that a kiss is for love, not betrayal!
What a contrast to the saint we recall today, St. Onesimus. He was actually a house slave to a Christian man named Philemon. Yes, THAT Philemon. It’s nice that a book of the Bible is named after you! But Onesimus was a runaway slave, who came under the influence of St. Paul during his missionary journeys and became a faithful follower of Christ under Paul’s teachings. St. Paul returns Onesimus to Philemon with a letter insisting that Philemon forgive his once a slave but now a brother in Christ. In fact, Onesimus becomes such a fine example of the Normal Christian life that the Church makes him the bishop of the area and he becomes Philemon’s bishop! What a turn of events and what a powerful witness to the true way Christ changes lives and sets things right!
Today, are you able to be vulnerable with others in a healthy way, or is your “nakedness” such a source of fear and shame that you see this as making your relationships unhealthy? Do you know what a kiss is for? As we continue to journey toward Great Lent, know the spiritual disciplines of the Faith are meant to “clothe” you in God’s peace and make you a Normal Orthodox Christian!
P.S. You did shine upon the world as a bright sunbeam, shining with the rays of Paul, the sun of most resplendent light, who has enlightened the world entire. Thus, we all honor you, blessed Onesimus.